Author's note: Thanks to my sister for betaing, Mostly Toasty for the initial and almost full inspiration for this entire story, and to Ty-Chou on DeviantArt for a gorgeous drawing that inspired the title of this fic. Other than that I don't know what to say, but I feel as though using the A/N without including in it a pretentiously poetic comment is a bit of a waste.
Optimus Prime stepped into the empty room with mixed feelings. He hadn't been in the presence of Elita One since their run-in with Alpha Trion. It was an ordeal that neither could reflect upon fondly, despite it marking their reunion after over four million years spent apart.
At one time, Ariel had been the one and only light of his life. They were truly dedicated to one another. In some ways, they seemed like any generic couple, experiencing the ups and downs, the frivolous courtship that both knew was unnecessary but still enjoyed. Even so, it had been so much more than that. Optimus—no, Orion—had desired nothing more than to spend the rest of his life with her at his side. True, he'd endlessly articulated his dreams of grandeur, living in a grandiose mansion, having a greater supply of energon than two bots could possibly desire... but every last dream and plan that had passed through his processor, it had all been for her. None of it would have meant anything without his Ariel, and he knew, without a doubt, that she felt the same.
In truth, those intense feelings had come to an abrupt end long ago. The scourge of war pummeled Orion Pax and Ariel into oblivion, and from their ashes rose the powerful Optimus Prime and Elita One. They were expected to lead; there was no time for romance.
Being rebuilt brought upon them incredible changes; Optimus had immediately felt like a completely new mechanism. The naïve Orion he'd been would have dreamed with starry optics to stand tall and proud like the wise and powerful Optimus Prime, but with his rebirth he was overcome by the serene power of modesty.
Responsibility loomed over himself and his bondmate, crushing them with a weight that both could support on their own now. By the time they realized the unity they had left behind, it was much too late to turn back and reclaim their former lives. And how could either sacrifice the brittle future of Cybertron for anything, even each other?
Optimus paused after entering and turned to watch as the female Autobot stepped gracefully inside, the door hissing shut behind her. He wondered if similar thoughts were racing through her processor, if she was currently lost in the past.
She drifted past him and sat in a well-worn chair, looking immediately comfortable. "See what I mean?" She asked in a concerned tone. Optimus nearly started at her voice, so lost in thought he'd been. He looked at the screen and immediately knew why she'd asked to speak with him.
On the monitor, Elita had brought up a chart displaying Decepticon activity by location and time period. There seemed to be no distinct correlation to the data. As he looked it over, she brought up a map on monitor to the side, the respective locations marked. He glanced back and forth between screens, and recalled her earlier words. "They seem to be up to something, but we haven't been able to decipher the meaning of their activities."
"This may be an attempt to instigate counter-activity that Shockwave can analyze and perhaps even glean vital information from." He said, though not entirely convinced himself.
"My thoughts exactly." Elita commented in the same troubled tone she had earlier.
"It's just too erratic to be sure. Regardless, my suggestion is that you continue to lay low unless otherwise necessary." He raised a hand to his faceplate thoughtfully. "Although.." he paused in quiet thought before continuing. "Do you have any data from before the earliest date listed here?"
He saw her glance down toward the now vaguely fidgeting hands in her lap. "We move our base of operations so often that it's just more prudent to keep most of our information on datapads. Perhaps inconvenient, and a little disorganized, but it certainly allows us to focus more on the tasks at hand." Optimus glanced across the room to the crates stacked in the corner closest to the entrance. Suddenly, despite all the changes each had undergone when they were rebuilt, he found himself amused by the persistence of Ariel's long forgotten quirk. She had never enjoyed the mundane task of organizing data.
"Well, let's get to it." He said, noting with even more amusement the way she abruptly stood and eyed him with surprise. He answered the unspoken question, adding "This is why we are here, to assist the Cybertronian resistance in any way we can. The others are busy already, and it won't hurt us to do the simple tasks ourselves, will it?" Her expression of unbridled surprise was replaced smoothly with a resigned smile and nod.
And that's how the supreme commander of the Autobots and the commander of the Autobot resistance on Cybertron came to be sitting on the floor surrounded by crates and stacks of datapads.
For the most part, the data was separated fairly well by date, but the content—Shockwave's drone activity, Autobot intelligence, suspicious but unexplained happenings, energon and other supply rations, and countless more—were jumbled together haphazardly. Considering the lack of help Elita had, it was no surprise to Optimus at all. He felt a pang of guilt at the shoddy conditions these Autobots were living under, especially the one he still cared so deeply about.
It was fast but uninteresting work. Once in a while, Optimus commented on something he'd found as he handed the data to her, and she'd respond accordingly as she placed it in one of the organized stacks close to her. The comments became less frequent, and soon they worked in a heavy silence.
A sudden thought invaded Optimus Prime's processor, that for the first time in millions of years, he was working menial labor. Coincidentally, his former coworker at the dock and beloved bondmate was once again at his side. He wondered if Elita had realized this as well, and if it was as oddly warming a thought to her as to him. He stared down at a datapad labeled simply "Rations" and recalled fondly the identical pads that passed between them so often on those docks. In an attempt to make the work less mundane, Ariel had devised a discreet form of communication. With a twinkle in his optic, Optimus added a small note to the header of the datapad, filling the available space next to the title, and handed it to her in silence.
He heard her pause for an especially long time after taking it, then run her finger along the header space to delete his message before placing it in the rations stack.
It had been the same note Ariel had left for him so many hundreds of times, the one that, regardless of how familiar it was or the mood he was in, made him smile.
Of course neither had ever had plans that the other didn't know about already. It was her way of telling him that she couldn't wait to get off work and spend some time in private. Optimus had already picked up several other datapads and stacked them neatly by topic before he found Elita handing one to him, her face turned away. He felt his spark flicker as he read the header, a sensation he'd thought gone with that dreamer of a sparkling, Orion Pax.
As she leaned forward to pick up another datapad from an unmarked crate, he couldn't help but notice the corners of her lips curled up into a subtle smile. It was a game, the same they had played nearly every day before the terrors of war. Suddenly there weren't enough datapads to sort; Optimus stacked the one Elita had just handed him and quickly went through the next few—ah, there. One he could hand to her.
"On what? If I may."
Her response came immediately, or rather, she seemed to have been writing him another already. She briskly dumped a datapad right into his lap, simultaneously accepting his latest with a timid smile.
"I've missed you."
The boring work that had moments ago been a necessary but undesirable task was now full of excitement—Optimus could feel his spark pulsing in his chest with an exuberance he hadn't experienced since he was still just a sparkling, courting his Ariel for the first time.
To anyone that may have been observing the two bots, their activity would have seemed distinctly normal, aside from the odd passion for trading datapads they seemed to share.
Not a single word was spoken as they continued, but as the time passed they found their optics meeting with more and more frequency. It wasn't until, with a datapad suspended between them, Elita's hand still clutching it even after Optimus had taken hold, they stopped completely, optics locked.
"Elita," he found himself appreciating the remarkable beauty of her features as though he was doing so for the first time all over again. Had he truly been blinded for this long? "I..."
The door hissed open, and both commanders turned to look at the intruders. Bumblebee and his inseparable human companion, Spike were standing in the doorway.
"Sorry! I pressed the wrong button," Bumblebee said, looking sheepish. Spike laughed and jokingly berated his best friend, allowing Optimus and Elita a moment to quickly compose themselves and place the datapad onto the floor discreetly.
"It's quite alright, Bumblebee. Is there something you two need?" Their attention returned to Optimus, Bumblebee nodded and addressed Elita as the two Autobots stood from their work.
"Miss Elita One, uh, ma'am, Chromia wanted us to see if you had anything else for us to do, since the others have things under control for now." Elita glanced toward Optimus and then the datapads, and Spike's expression lit up with sudden understanding.
"Hey you two shouldn't have to be sorting data! Leave that stuff to us!" He thumbed his chest and ended his proposition with a bright smile.
Elita's optics flashed to Optimus again, then focused on the two newcomers, "That's kind of you but not necessary. Perhaps—"
"Actually I think it's a good idea." Optimus quipped, gesturing welcomingly. Spike punched the air and padded in with Bumblebee close behind. The Autobot commander barely noticed as they sat down by the datapads. His optics were on Elita; the smile that crept onto her face was a familiar one. She offered a thank you to them and latched onto Optimus Prime's arm as soon as the door hissed shut.
"I suppose I could use a little break."
Spike picked up the first datapad with some difficulty and leaned it against a crate. Bumblebee was listing off the respective topics for each already-organized stack when he was interrupted by his human friend.
"Bumblebee," he laughed, voice filled with bewilderment. "Which pile is for 'I love you'?"